In recent years, Taiwan’s picture book market — long dominated by translated titles from overseas — has seen a new wave of creative output by local authors and illustrators. Drawing source material from daily life, these books are an important contribution to the preservation of traditional culture, and, owing to the diverse backgrounds of their creators, they successfully highlight Taiwan’s cultural diversity.
Han Chinese authors, representing Taiwan’s dominant cultural stream, have no shortage of works that revolve around traditional culture, most often focusing on iconic subjects like local legends, festivals, and crafts. Sisters Wang Jiazhen and Wang Jiazhu collaborated on Auntie Tiger, a retelling of three ancient legends whose exquisitely evocative illustrations were accepted into the Illustrator’s Exhibition at the 2007 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Chang You-Ran’s My Little Blue Dress, constructed around the premise of a little girl who suffers from skin allergies, introduces readers to the traditional indigo dyeing techniques of Taiwan’s mountainous Sanxia region, while also highlighting faith in regional deities such as Tudigong, the earth god, and Zushiye, the deified spirit of a famous Buddhist monk. In Beyond Dajia’s Gate, author/illustrator Ballboss, whose work has also been shown at the Illustrator’s Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, explores the Mazu procession, one of Taiwan’s most famous religious events, while telling a touchingly personal tale set within a rich atmosphere of village life.
MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS
Preserving and Promoting Native Traditions: Aboriginal-Themed Works
When it comes to multiculturalism, we cannot ignore the 16 legally-recognized native groups whose ancestors were the earliest inhabitants of Taiwan. The majority of the current batch of aboriginal-themed picture books answer the need for increased recognition of native culture by narrating native myths and legends, depicting the traditional way of life of various tribal groups, and exploring their relationship to the natural environment.
Lai Ma’s Gold Sun, Silver Sun blends a number of native legends into an origin myth about an archer who must shoot down the sun to save his people. Aboriginal author Neqou Sokluman’s My Grandfather the Hunter delves into the Bunun people’s affective connections to the Formosan Black Bear, using cultural transmission as a lens to understand the ecological wisdom of the Bunun ancestors. Taiwan also has non-fiction picture books on native themes, such as The Fish that Flew Across the Sky, in which flying fish serve as an entry point for exploring the culture of the Tao people.
Some aboriginal-themed picture books attempt to break out of the “cultural tour” mode of presentation. Although Phenol Boy is set against the backdrop of Pastaay, an important festival of the Saisiyat people, the moral of the story relates to the universal value of forgiveness. Constructing the narrative in this way allows the book to meet the needs of a broad range of readers, while also clarifying the intimate connection between the festival and the concept of remorse in Saisiyat culture.